Retired Navy SEAL Jared Ogden founded the San Diego-based Phoenix Patriot Foundation in honor of his platoon commander, Lt. Dan Cnossen, who lost both of his legs after stepping on an improvised explosive devise on his first day as a lieutenant in Afghanistan.
“I live in a house full of Navy SEALs, and we got out a whiteboard and came up with ideas and we came up with a mission,” Ogden said. “We do cool challenge events to get guys back in the saddle and fired up. We get them engaged with life again.”
Ogden was inspired by the spirit of Cnossen, who is a medal hopeful in the biathlon for the United States and the upcoming Paralympics in Sochi, Russia. “Dan is a bad-ass guy who never asks for a thing,” Ogden said. “But one day he called me up and asked whether we could help get him a hand cycle he needed for his training when the snow melted.”
The foundation also has helped Tomy Parker, a Marine who became a triple amputee at age 22, with his goal of becoming a politician. “We got him a nice computer and an iPad, stuff he needs to help with the financial burden that the Yellow Ribbon and GI Bill don’t help out with,” Ogden said. “Our mission is to help veterans return to a life of service.”
Ogden said the biggest travesty at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center is “guys who give up on life and just collect a disability check. Return to service can simply be becoming a taxpaying citizen. It’s bad when you lose the will to continue to excel.”
Ogden and Reichenbach are riding in honor of Navy SEAL Patrick Feeks, 28, who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan a year ago. Feeks had been a roommate of Ogden’s.
Feeks’ sister, Regina, will ride a Jet Ski in his honor. The American flag that was in the battlefield when Feeks died is being carried along the challenge route. “The flag is the sacred embodiment of the spirit of not only Patrick, but his family and loved ones and the nation as well,” Alladio said.
The Kawasak Ultra LX Jet Skis were rigged to carry 20 extra gallons of fuel. But they still will stop about every 60 miles for refueling and rider changes. After each day’s journey the challenge will stop and hold awareness events to help get out the word about the young foundations that are doing good work but desperately need funding.
Joe Sakellar, who has been in the Army 15 years — part of the time in special operations as a Night Stalker — said his Team Havoc is riding in tribute of Turbine 33, a Chinook helicopter that was shot down trying to rescue a Navy SEAL team in 2005. All 16 on board died.
“At the same time, we’re also riding for the Station Foundation as well — for the veterans who are still here,” he said.
The Station Foundation was founded in 2011 by Kevin Stacy, an aviator in the Army. In October 2012 it began offering programs that help the special operations community readjust to the real world. The programs are held on a ranch in Montana, and tailored to the needs of the warriors and their families.
“I know the name doesn’t sound very patriotic,” said Stacy’s wife Shannon, who volunteers full-time at the foundation. But she said it comes from Kevin’s experience at Grand Central Station in New York, where he always needed to ask for help to get where he was going.